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Posts from the "Bike/Ped" Category

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Infographic: U.S. DOT Promotes the Health Benefits of Active Transportation

Image: Active Living Research via Fast Lane

“Transportation investments that support active travel — like greenways, trails, sidewalks, traffic-calming devices, and public transit — create opportunities to increase routine physical activity, improve health, and lower health care costs,” writes U.S. DOT’s Todd Solomon this morning on Secretary Anthony Foxx’s Fast Lane blog. “The same investments promote sustainability.”

All of these numbers are testament to the importance of street design and transit service in how we make our transportation choices and how healthy we are. The statistic about route selection in Portland particularly illustrates how significant good bike facilities are. The same study that found that 49 percent of bike commuters’ miles were ridden on roads with bike facilities also found that 10 percent of utilitarian bicycle travel — as opposed to bicycling just for exercise — occurred on bicycle boulevards, even though bicycle boulevards make up less than 1 percent of the region’s bicycle network. Cities can keep this in mind if they’re wondering whether anyone will use the new bike infrastructure they’re thinking of investing in.

Kudos to U.S. DOT for publicizing these important facts!

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UPDATE: Here We Go Again: Sen. Rand Paul Pits Bikes Against Bridges

Rand Paul is at it again.

Last year, Sen. Paul (R-KY) made a laughingstock of himself by alleging that the Transportation Enhancements program — which largely funds bicycle and pedestrian improvements — was used for things like “turtle tunnels and squirrel sanctuaries and all this craziness.”

We love squirrel sanctuaries as much as the next person, but they have nothing to do with the Transportation Alternatives program. Photo: BBC

His statements had no basis in fact, but that didn’t matter. He and other Republicans were so hell-bent on killing the TE program that they nearly brought the negotiations over a new authorization bill to a grinding halt. What emerged, after a hard-fought compromise, was an under-funded, watered-down Transportation Alternatives program. And now Paul wants to kill that too.

His amendment [PDF] to the Transportation and HUD appropriations bill, before the Senate today, would put all TA funding toward bridge repair.

Bridge repair certainly could use some help, seeing as MAP-21 dramatically shrunk the amount of money earmarked for keeping the nation’s bridges in safe operating condition. But Sen. Paul’s idea of a solution is beyond misguided. Half of TA funds go directly to the hands of local communities to use as they wish, a process any devolutionist fiscal conservative should appreciate. The other half can be frittered away on anything a state wants, if the state chooses to transfer the money out of TA and into other programs.

Notably, Kentucky has chosen not to transfer its Transportation Alternatives funds to other purposes — meaning Paul’s amendment would reverse a decision the state has made.

Indeed, TA’s intended use for active transportation projects should be the pet issue of every conservative in Congress — more people biking and walking means less expenditures on roads, health care, or environmental mitigation. And it gives people the freedom to move about freely without the burden of enormous gas and automobile expenses. What could be more American than that?

“Taking that small amount of funding away would dangerously undermine efforts in our cities, towns and counties to provide safe and efficient transportation options for everyone,” said the League of American Bicyclists in a statement. “With rates of bicycling and walking fatalities on the rise, that is a trade we can’t afford to make.”

Plus, by proposing to get rid of Transportation Alternatives funding and put it into the bridge repair grant program, he’s taking guaranteed money away from Kentucky and putting it into a competitive grant process where Kentucky will have to compete with every other state.

Kentucky has $952 million in bridge-related needs, according to FHWA. The state gets less than $13 million in Transportation Alternatives money. That means it would take Kentucky 74 years of TA funding to repair its bridges.

Update 2:07 p.m.: As the initial version of this article reported, the amendment has been ”ordered to lie on the table,” which apparently, contrary to what the Internet told me, is not the same as “tabled.”

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Solo Driving Drops in DC as Transit and Biking Soar

Transit's mode share in the DC region grew 30 percent between 2000 and 2011, with growth in every jurisdiction. Image: National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board

We’ve been writing a lot this week about the national shift away from car travel and toward transit, biking, and walking. Yesterday, Washington area officials released new data that indicates the DC region is at the forefront of that trend.

The region added half a million new workers between 2000 and 2011, according to a report by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board [PDF]. During that period, transit was the fastest-growing mode of travel for commuters, soaring from an 11.8 percent mode share to 15.4 percent, nearly a one-third increase. That’s an additional 162,000 regular transit commuters across the greater DC area.

More than half of that increase has occurred since 2007, probably spurred in part by the recession, though undoubtedly helped along by many other factors.

Puzzlingly, the major exception to that rule was among federal government workers: All of their increased transit ridership happened between 2000 and 2007, when mode share jumped from 19 percent to 28 percent, where it remained in 2011. That means transit ridership among federal employees wasn’t affected by the transition from a Republican to a Democratic administration or by the recession.

Region-wide, 65.8 percent of commuters drive alone, a slight drop from 67.2 percent in 2000. Driving alone decreased or stayed the same in every jurisdiction but Prince William County, where admittedly unreliable data shows it rose from 74 percent to 77 percent.

The changes in the region are happening even more intensely in the city of Washington alone. In DC, 40.2 percent of workers commute via transit, compared to 32.3 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, the share of DC workers driving alone shrank from 39 percent to 33.6 percent.

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How Much Driving Is Avoided When Someone Rides a Bike?

If Jane Doe rides her bike a mile to the post office and then back home, is it fair to assume she just avoided two miles of driving? And can we then assume that she prevented 2.2 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted?

That’s more or less the way most agencies calculate averted vehicle-miles traveled. One mile biked is one mile not driven.

That simple assumption masks enormous complexity, however. And with at least 33 states and hundreds of cities, towns, and counties having instituted climate action plans or emissions reduction targets, we’re going to need a better method of measuring the carbon that biking keeps out of the atmosphere.

It’s not too hard to figure out the carbon savings from reduced VMT. But looking at it the other way around — calculating the carbon-reduction benefits of increased biking — can be a challenge.

If bicycling is on the rise in your city — because of bike-share or better infrastructure, for example — what does that mean for your city’s carbon footprint? A mode shift metric that accurately captures this information could encourage municipalities to invest more in biking and walking as a carbon reduction strategy.

Not that biking always replaces driving. Some bicycle trips are primarily recreational and wouldn’t be made by any other mode. Or if someone shifts from bus commuting to bike commuting, then they’re obviously not taking a car off the highway (though the newly available space on the bus might then be filled by someone making the switch from driving to transit). Ten million U.S. households don’t have access to a car, according to the Brookings Institution, and regular cyclists are probably over-represented in that number. Shouldn’t it change the equation if a cyclists’ backup mode is transit or walking?

But there are also reasons to think that the 1:1 ratio is actually undercounting vehicle miles averted, and therefore underestimating the power of mode shift. Read more…

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Congress to U.S. DOT: The Roads Aren’t Safe Until They’re Safe For Everyone

Yes, traffic fatalities have been (mostly) going down, but as long as cyclist and pedestrian fatalities keep going up, we can’t truly say our streets and roads are getting safer. That’s the message from 68 members of Congress to one pretty receptive audience: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Lawmakers say states should be making sure their streets are safe for everyone. Photo: Tiffany Robinson, Ped-Bike Images

In their letter to LaHood, sent on Saturday, the 68 lawmakers – including nine Republicans — note that between 2010 and 2011, driving got safer: Roadway fatalities dropped 2 percent overall; 4.6 percent for occupants of cars and light trucks. But bicyclist fatalists went up 9 percent and pedestrian deaths rose 3 percent in the same time period.

LaHood announced earlier this month that U.S. DOT would be holding two bike safety summits this year. But the lawmakers want the agency to go further. And they didn’t just ask in vague terms for increased attention to safety. They got specific: U.S. DOT should create “separate performance measures for non-motorized and motorized users.”

If it sounds like they might have gotten some ideas from people deep inside the bike advocacy world, well, you got that right. Hundreds of Bike Summit participants made this their key “ask” earlier this month when they visited their representatives on Capitol Hill. Apparently their representatives listened.

SAFETEA-LU, passed in 2005, required states to set goals for reducing overall fatalities but included no specific reporting requirements for biking and walking. Without state attention, vulnerable road users have become even more vulnerable, with fatalities increasing both in real numbers and as a percentage of roadway fatalities, according to Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists.

One-third of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee signed on to the letter, giving DOT a good sense how the committee wants them to interpret MAP-21. “When Congress set performance measures areas, they were saying, ‘These are the things we are going to judge you on,’” Whitaker said in an email. “If bicyclists and pedestrians aren’t included in the performance measures, we risk being left behind.”

“In over half of all states, more than 10 percent of roadway fatalities are bicyclists and pedestrians but yet only seven states report investing in any bicycling and walking safety projects,” she added.

Read more…

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Lawmakers Fret About Impact of Budget Cuts on Transit

“In 2014, federal investment in surface transportation — which is currently about $50 billion per year — will drop to $6 billion or $7 billion. In one year.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio says underinvestment in transit is killing people, and it's about to get way worse.

Those were the dire words spoken by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) at the start of this morning’s Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hearing on MAP-21. What he meant was this: At the end of MAP-21, the Highway Trust Fund is expected to have a balance of almost zero and a $7.1 billion shortfall in 2015. Congress would have to radically reduce FY 2015 highway and transit investment levels to ensure that the trust fund remains solvent. According to AASHTO, federal highway investments would have to be cut from approximately $41 billion to $6 billion and transit investment from $11 billion to $3 billion.

“That is pathetic,” DeFazio said. “And we have to do something about it.”

Funding Cuts Force FTA to Break Agreements

T&I Chair Bill Shuster agreed. “That’s our biggest challenge moving forward,” he said. And Ranking Democrat Nick Rahall added that the sequester cuts and Congress’s inability to pass a real budget has compounded the funding crisis.

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff warned that the cuts will have a profound impact on transit projects around the country:

Overall, the sequester struck $656 million from FTA’s budget. It reduced program funding for our [New Starts] capital investment grants program by almost $100 million. This will means that few, if any, New Starts construction projects will be fundable in the near term.

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U.S. DOT to Challenge AASHTO Supremacy on Bike/Ped Safety Standards

For years, the federal government has adopted roadway guidelines that fall far short of what’s needed — and what’s possible — to protect cyclists and pedestrians. By “playing it safe” and sticking with old-school engineering, U.S. DOT allowed streets to be unsafe for these vulnerable road users.

But that could be changing. The bike-friendliest transportation secretary the country has ever seen told state transportation officials yesterday at AASHTO’s annual Washington conference that U.S. DOT was getting into the business of issuing its own design standards, instead of simply accepting the AASHTO guidelines.

LaHood told an audience of state transportation officials that the FHWA is getting into the roadway design business.

Normally, the Federal Highway Administration points people to AASHTO’s Green Book, the organization’s design guide for highways and streets — and indeed, the agency is still directing people to the 2001 edition of the Green Book. Cycling advocates have long criticized the AASHTO guide, and the FHWA’s adherence to it, since even the most recent version doesn’t incorporate the latest thinking in bicycle and pedestrian safety treatments.

In FHWA’s new round of rule-making, DOT will set its own bicycle and pedestrian safety standards for the first time. The agency will “highlight bicycle and pedestrian safety as a priority,” LaHood said. (You can watch his entire speech on AASHTO’s online TV channel.)

FHWA will rely heavily on input from AASHTO but also signaled that it would work with others to incorporate the full spectrum of bike/ped design best practices.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials publishes its own, much more cutting-edge, design guide for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. No one at U.S. DOT reached out to NACTO in advance of the AASHTO speech, but NACTO spokesperson Ron Thaniel said they have a “close working relationship with Secretary LaHood” and “look forward to working with him” on the new standards.

LaHood noted that he would be meeting with cyclists next week at the National Bike Summit here in Washington and that he would work with them on ways to improve infrastructure “to make biking and walking opportunities as safe as they possibly can be.”

But it was wise of him to make his announcement at AASHTO, not at the Bike Summit. He seems to be trying to bring AASHTO into the fold of a movement to embrace more innovative bikeway designs. “I’m asking [the cycling community] for their help but I’m asking you to be helpful also,” he told the state officials. “I know that most of you want to build the 21st century infrastructure that your communities need to be competitive. The problem is we don’t have modern-day roadway standards to help us bring these ideas to life.”

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Pro-Bike Republican Tom Petri to Chair Key House Transpo Panel

The Republican co-chair of the Congressional Bicycling Caucus is getting a leadership position with some real gravitas. Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) was just named the new chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee in the House — the epicenter of the chamber’s surface transportation legislation.

Tom Petri received the Wisconsin Bike Federation's Hero Award last year. Photo: Wendy Soucie/Lodi Valley News

The list of Republicans who support active transportation is pretty short these days, and Petri is at the top of it. He’s a frequent speaker at the National Bike Summit and similar gatherings. I first encountered him at a workshop of Dutch cycling experts who were advising DC and other U.S. cities on how to improve their infrastructure. At that meeting, Petri declared “a bipartisan war against couch potatoes here in the United States.”

Last month, I wrote about Republicans who might reach across the aisle to co-sponsor legislation that benefits transit and safer streets, and everyone I spoke to mentioned Petri’s name — but some were cynical. Sure, Petri’s great, the thinking went, but he’s ignored by his party. You can get his name on a good bill but it won’t carry much weight with the GOP.

That could change now that he’s subcommittee chair.

Petri was one of the very few Republicans trying to stem the tide of attacks against Transportation Enhancements, the program that used to fund bicycling and walking. (It’s now been repackaged as Transportation Alternatives, with less money.) Petri fought to keep Enhancements, introducing an amendment [PDF] to protect the program, as many in his party tried to do away with it altogether. As I mentioned in last month’s story:

The amendment failed and Petri ended up being the only Republican to vote against H.R. 7 in committee (which was as far as it got), though he says he voted against it “primarily because it slashed highway funding for Wisconsin.” Petri also ensured that metro areas with small transit systems would continue to have the flexibility to allocate federal transit funds to operating costs.

On the other hand, Petri hasn’t taken a strong stance against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to send high-speed rail funds back to the federal government and, in fact, co-sponsored legislation that would have directed those returned funds toward deficit reduction, not other rail projects.

Petri takes over from Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), who maintained a low profile during the debates over H.R. 7. But when Chair John Mica was prepared to cut transportation funding by a third to keep it in line with thinning revenues, Duncan was on board with that. He insisted that no new revenue streams be considered.

Duncan doesn’t deviate from the party line that the federal government has no role in bike/ped funding, either.

During the debate over the bill, Duncan most often expressed his support for the move to gut environmental review procedures, saying, “I know all these environmental radicals come from very wealthy and very upper-income families, but they are really hurting the poor and low-income groups in this country.”

Duncan is now the vice-chair of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Petri is one of the highest-ranking members on the T&I Committee, but the chairmanship wasn’t a given. The vice-chairmanship of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee went to freshman Richard Hanna (R-NY) in the last session, skipping over many more senior members, Petri among them.

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New Black Box Rule Isn’t Enough to Hold Drivers Accountable For Ped Crashes

Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule requiring automakers to install event data recorders, known as EDRs or black boxes, in all light passenger vehicles. While the rule would expand the number of vehicles equipped to record critical information in the moments preceding a crash, that alone won’t aid investigations of traffic deaths or strengthen cases against reckless drivers. For black boxes to help get to the bottom of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, changes to local crash investigation procedures and to EDR technology itself need to happen as well.

Clara Heyworth was killed by a driver whose black box data was wiped away before police thought to look for it. Photo via New York Times

Most cars already have black boxes. They’ve been around since 1996, and NHTSA says about 96 percent of 2013 models have them. The agency wants to make that 100 percent, starting in September 2014.

Black boxes on airplanes get more press than those in cars, since they’ve helped piece together the factors behind some high-profile plane crashes. In cars, event data recorders can tell you how fast the vehicle was going, whether the brake was activated, the force of the crash, the state of the engine throttle, when the airbag deployed, and whether a vehicle occupant’s seatbelt was buckled.

All good information. But black boxes don’t always work if it was a pedestrian or a cyclist who was struck.

Event data recorders are part of the airbag safety system. They’re what tells the airbags to deploy. And if the crash isn’t forceful enough to trigger the airbags, the EDR doesn’t record the data.

James Harris of Harris Technical Services, which provides expert reconstruction of traffic crashes, says black boxes “have been known to” record crashes with pedestrians, but “it’s not absolute.”

Sensors mounted around the edge of the car might detect a person there, but if the crash isn’t forceful enough to set off an airbag deployment, the black box probably won’t record it.

“If their body makes contact with the front of the car near one of the forward sensors – ah! Now you might have a record started,” Harris told Streetsblog. “They’re not designed for that necessarily. What we’re looking at are forces.”

It’s yet another vulnerability that comes with being a “vulnerable street user.” Flesh and bone — or even a bike frame — often won’t cause a severe enough impact to register with the black box. Harris said a bigger, heavier vehicle, like a Lincoln Continental, while being more likely to cause damage, is actually less likely to record a crash with a pedestrian or cyclist because of its greater mass relative to the victim. Meanwhile, the NHTSA rule doesn’t encompass heavy trucks or buses, which aren’t required to have black boxes installed.

When it comes to using black box data in crash investigations and reckless driving prosecutions, much needs to happen at the local and state level before the technology is consistently applied to hold dangerous drivers accountable. In cases where EDRs do record a crash involving a bicyclist or pedestrian, police and district attorneys rarely use the information.

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Seven Jiu-Jitsu Moves for Advocates to Use MAP-21 to Their Own Advantage

OK, truth: Raise your hand if you find federal transportation legislation intimidating and incomprehensible.

T4America's new document will help communities improve mobility and keep everyone safer. Photo: T4America

I thought so. Me too.

The problem, as you know, is that it’s enormously important that advocates not only understand the new transportation law, MAP-21, but that they understand it in granular detail so they can find the small opportunities buried in a depressingly large mass of disappointment.

So a big thank-you goes out to the folks at Transportation for America, who just released exactly the resource advocates need: a guide to the law called “Making the Most of MAP-21.”

In addition to providing a basic outline of the law and its relevant provisions (and omissions), the document contains some excellent how-to’s and talking points for advocates and project sponsors trying to squeeze funding for sustainable transportation projects out of programs biased heavily toward auto-oriented infrastructure.

Here are a few of the excellent ideas that stand out:

Ask states to flex highway funds for bridge repair. One major hidden peril of MAP-21 is that it transferred the responsibility of repairing 460,000 bridges that aren’t on the National Highway System (NHS) to the overburdened Surface Transportation Program (STP), without adding any money for it. In fact, STP has $5 billion of new responsibilities under MAP-21 and only $1 billion of new money.

Source: T4America

Luckily, there’s a solution: States can flex up to half of their National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) funds, normally earmarked for NHS projects, to other uses. After all, NHS gets a disproportionate share of funding: “Although the NHS represents only five percent of all American roads, fully 58 percent of the highway program is committed to its upkeep,” the report says.

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